State Targets Illegal Tobacco Sales To Minors

Attorney General Spitzer said today that an undercover investigation by his office has revealed that many New York retailers routinely sell cigarettes to minors in violation of state law.

In response, Spitzer will pursue enforcement actions in more than 20 cities across the upstate region. He has also developed a comprehensive public education campaign designed to prevent minors from smoking.

"Underage smoking is a major public health hazard," Spitzer said. "We must to do everything we can to prevent children from developing this deadly habit. Our starting point in this effort should be to stop illegal tobacco sales to minors."

As part of the investigation, teenagers working with investigators from the Attorney General’s office were asked to make tobacco purchases at a variety of retail outlets, including drug stores, supermarkets, gas stations, convenience stores, and discount chains.

The targeted retailers repeatedly and persistently sold tobacco products to teenagers, even when the teenagers showed identification revealing that they were under the legal age to purchase tobacco products. The stores violated the state’s Adolescent Tobacco Use Prevention Act and may face civil penalties and heavy fines.

The key change sought by the Attorney General, however, is having retailers adopt more stringent procedures and policies that will prevent tobacco sales to minors.

Russell Sciandra, Executive Director of the Center for a Tobacco-Free New York, said: "Teenagers’ major source of tobacco products is from over the counter sales by retail merchants. Clearly, teenagers’ access to tobacco products has not been adequately limited. The Attorney General’s efforts to curtail those sales are an important step in the battle against underage smoking. We also congratulate the Attorney General on the TV spots he has selected. This kind of aggressive, hard-hitting message is what teenagers and adult smokers need to hear."

Michael Seserman, Director of Tobacco Control for the American Cancer Society, said: "Ninety percent of new smokers are children and teenagers. One third of these new smokers will eventually die of tobacco related diseases. Retailers must be held accountable for their role in teenage addiction to nicotine. We applaud the Attorney General for acting to protect kids from Big Tobacco."

Elizabeth C. Miller, CEO of the American Lung Association of New York State, said: "This is ground breaking and important investigation by Attorney General Spitzer should re-enforce the fact that New York State must do much more to keep cigarettes out of the reach of children. There should be no more delay in the passage of statewide initiatives that prevent kids from having direct access to tobacco products and penalize anyone who sells cigarettes to children."

Spitzer also announced a public education campaign aimed at curbing the sale of tobacco to minors and reducing overall use of tobacco. As part of the campaign, Spitzer is working with the New York State Cable Television Association to broadcast anti-smoking commercials on youth- oriented cable networks throughout the upstate region. More than 31,000 spots will be aired during peak viewership periods for children and teenagers on MTV, VH-1, Nickelodeon, and ESPN among others.

"The message of this campaign is direct, truthful, and compelling. Smoking is addictive, and can have a devastating impact on your health," Spitzer said.

The commercials are being funded in part by settlement funds secured by the state in tobacco related cases and are being matched by participating cable companies as a public service under an agreement with the cable association.

Richard F. Alteri, President of the Cable Television Association, said: "We are pleased to be a partner with the Attorney General on this important public information campaign. This effort demonstrates, once again, the New York Cable Industry’s commitment to public service."

The investigation targeted the following retailers: "A Plus" Mini Marts; "Convenient" convenience stores; Eckerd Drugs; Hannaford Supermarkets; Kinney Drugs; Mobil Convenience Stores; Seven-Eleven stores; Stewart’s; Sunoco; Walgreen’s; and Walmart.

The cities and communities where the undercover operation occurred included: Albany, Baldwin Place, Buffalo, Binghamton, Goshen, New City, New Rochelle, Mechanicville, Middletown, Newburgh, North Brewster, Pearl River, Plattsburgh, Poughkeepsie, Rome, Rochester, Spring Valley, Suffern, Syracuse, Watertown, West Nyack, and Yonkers.

The investigation and anticipated enforcement actions are being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Leslie Neustadt and Melvin L. Goldberg of the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau; Doris Morin of the Westchester Regional Office; and Michael Danaher of the Binghamton Regional Office.

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